It would be better if this book did not need to be written. However, the reality of continuing high levels of poverty and the pain and indignity of those living in hunger convinces us that a handbook on how to open and operate a soup kitchen responds to a critical need.
Based on every indicator, more and more Americans are facing food scarcity due to lack of money to purchase food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food has soared to 49.1 million, the highest level since the USDA began tracking hunger data 14 years ago.
The severe economic downturn has dramatically increased the number of Americans in need of emergency assistance. Many of the newly needy have been self-sufficient in the past but are now unemployed for the rst time in their lives and must depend on food stamps, food pantries and soup kitchens to make ends meet. In fact, some of these folks may have previously volunteered at food pantries and soup kitchens. While there is some overlap among those who come to soup kitchens and food pantries, these social service agencies often can have very different clientele. Patrons who come to soup kitchens generally do not have stable housing and are unable to cook a meal where they are living. Those who come to food pantries generally have a place to cook and eat their meal.
Unfortunately, there is a great need for both additional food pantries and soup kitchens in our nation. At the present time we estimate that there are approximately 5,000 existing soup kitchens in America. We have no doubt, that thousands upon thousands of our citizens could be spared the pain and indignity of hunger if additional soup kitchens were to be opened in our nation. While most people visualize inner city poverty when they think about a soup kitchen, it is important to note that there are marked migration patterns of poverty out from the cities into the near-in suburbs, as documented by the Brookings Institution and others. This suggests an emerging need for soup kitchens in some inner suburbs. Beyond the cities and inner suburbs, there are also many rural areas without adequate emergency food services that could benefit from having strategically located soup kitchens.
The terms soup kitchen, food pantry and food bank are often confused. All are emergency food programs, but a soup kitchen is a place where sit-down meals (hot or cold) are provided. A food pantry provides food staples (generally non-perishable) to individuals in take-home grocery bags. A food bank is a larger regional entity that serves as a central distributor of donated or purchased food to local hunger relief agencies such as soup kitchens, food pantries, and emergency shelters.
The title of our book is Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen but the book should be equally useful to existing soup kitchens that want to improve or expand their current operations. It also can be helpful to nonprofits which are already operating food pantries or shelters or other social service facilities.
This handbook comes from the authors’ many years of experience with nonprofits in the social service sector including soup kitchens located in Trenton, New Jersey. These soup kitchens serve hot meals on an unconditional, no questions asked, open-door policy to all who are hungry. One kitchen is a faith-based operation started in 1980 called “Loaves and Fishes” which serves lunch the last two Saturdays of each month. The other is a private, non-religious soup kitchen started in 1982 named the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen or TASK whose operation is described in detail in Chapter 1. TASK operates Monday through Friday, providing three meals each day. TASK is currently serving over 3,500 meals per week or 185,000 meals per year.
Trenton is New Jersey’s capital city as well as the county seat of Mercer County, located in the center of the state. With a peak population of 135,000 in the 1940’s and 50’s, it was once a booming manufacturing center and the nation’s leading pottery producer. It also was home to the Roebling Steel Company which made wire suspension cables for many projects including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. Due to the collapse of the manufacturing sector and the departure of living wage jobs to the southern US and then overseas, Trenton is today a poor city with a population of fewer than 80,000, high unemployment and school drop-out rates, gang activity and crime.
An excellent portrait of the poverty landscape of the Trenton region and many similar parts of America may be found in a book called In Plain Sight: Battling Hunger, Building Lives – The Story of TASK. Its author is Lee Seglem, a member of the TASK Board of Trustees. Seglem explains how profound urban poverty can exist in proximity to suburban affluence. He also describes the architecture of emergency food operations in the U.S., a system he calls “Hunger, Inc.” Seglem’s book reveals TASK to be an extraordinary place, where people do extraordinary things.
Some would say that what takes place at TASK is magical – in the way it transforms people’s lives – patrons, staff and volunteers. TASK is a soup kitchen and more. It’s a soup kitchen plus a comprehensive array of social service programs. TASK has also demonstrated how an emergency food nonprofit organization operating on the front lines of poverty can be sustainable and effective.
Peter Wise was a long time volunteer at Loaves and Fishes and the Director of TASK from 1998 to 2007. During that time period TASK served over 1 million meals to the hungry residents of Trenton. Irwin Stoolmacher has been a fundraising and marketing consultant to more than 100 nonprofits in New Jersey, including TASK, for over two decades. Martin Tuchman has served as a member of the TASK Board of Trustees since February 2003.
The information, insights and tips contained herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen or any other individuals. We are also responsible for any omissions.
We sincerely hope that How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen will be helpful to those who would like to do something about acute hunger in their community. The complete content of the book is also available on line at www.StartaSoupKitchen.org.
If after reading this book you would like to learn more, please visit the above website. Through this site you can arrange for a visit and/or seminar at TASK. At this time you will meet the wonderful staff of TASK and see first-hand the magic of this wonderful place.
While there are many challenges in operating a soup kitchen, there are also many rewards. It is very gratifying to know that you are doing something concrete to alleviate the suffering of neighbors who live in poverty. It is our hope that you too will experience the rewards that come in doing this work.
Irwin S. Stoolmacher, Martin Tuchman, & Peter C. Wise – 2011